How To Survive A Road Trip & Vacation With A Toddler And Baby
It can be exciting preparing for a family vacation, especially if it is the first one with a toddler and baby. Some of the best memories you will look back on in the years to come will be the trips you took with your kids, and the experiences and bonding time you were able to have with them. But with all of that aside, surviving a road trip & vacation with a baby and toddler is not for the faint of hearts.
Preparing for a vacation alone is time consuming and when you add kids into the mix, it is a monumental task. And in most cases, who is in charge of the planning and preparation? Usually us mammas. This isnt always the case, but it definitely is in our household.
You are in charge of thinking of every possible scenario that could occur during your trip and prepare for it. That is one tall task.
There is a lot of planning involved if you are road tripping with your family in addition to the actual vacation! There are so many additional factors such as how long your drive is, what specific age your kids are, how big is the car you are road tripping in, where is your destination etc, etc.
BUT, there are some things you can do to help prepare yourself and your family so you can better enjoy this valuable time with your kids.
Even a small shift in perspective can help you let go of some of the stress and pressure that comes with planning, preparing, and executing a family vacation so you can better survive your road trip and vacation with your baby and toddler!
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A piece of advice that I was recently told that completely changed my perspective on family vacations is:
Dont refer to it as a vacation, instead, refer to it as a trip
When kids are involved it is NOT a vacation. A vacation is implying that you are going to be relaxing. If you have the goal of relaxation in mind then you will be sadly disappointed when it is more stressful than relaxing. A vacation will most likely be taken with your partner, or with friends where you will actually get time to relax.
Im not saying that you wont have fun, these will be lifelong memories in the making that you will remember forever. BUT, that doesnt mean it isnt going to be stressful. A trip with kids, let alone a toddler and a baby is hard.
At home you likely have a routine and everything in one place, kids know what to expect when they are at home. When you are on a trip, everything is fair game, there is no routine, no structure, and you are taking things one day at a time.
This is the most valuable piece of advice I have received that I keep in mind any time I am preparing or on a family vacation.
Tips for a successful road trip with your baby and toddler
Keep your expectations low
This can be hard to do when you are just trying to get from point A to point B but trust me, if you keep your expectations low you will have a much more enjoyable road trip.
Know that you are going to have to stop frequently for bathroom breaks or diaper changes, stretches, snacks, nursing sessions, bottle feeding, tantrums, etc…
You will probably be asked a million times are we there yet
You will most likely spend a good chunk of time listening to your toddlers favorite song.
Road tripping with kids is not glamorous, but can be really fun all at the same time.
By keeping expectations low and knowing that things arent going to go exactly as you had planned, will help you have a more realistic and less stressful road trip with your baby and toddler.
Have plenty of activities for the kids
There are so many fun toddler activities for the road these days, these are a few of our favorites:
Car seat activity station: This allows a flat surface so they can do activities such as color, read books, or eat snacks. It also has plenty of pockets for crayon, drinks, toys and books. Its a nice way to keep semi organized when you are traveling with kids.
New crayon & a drawing pad: There is something exciting about brand new sharp crayons that your toddler will love so much, they are also inexpensive!
The inevitable ipad or tablet: We have this amazon kids tablet and it works perfect for road trips. You can preload it with movies, shows & games to entertain your toddler. It is a really affordable tablet option that has worked out great! This mount has also come in handy, you can keep it secure on the back of the headrest.
This busy board has been a life saver: It is a great sensory activity to advance those fine motor skills that will keep your toddler entertained for a long time. Our son loves this toy, we take it everywhere with us.
Books: I always like to get a few new books for road trips so my son has something new and exciting when we are stuck in the car
Purchase a few new toys: You dont need to go overboard, these can be small. But there is just something about NEW that will keep your toddlers interested for longer. I like to keep these toys hidden for cases of emergency. If youre on your last stretch of the drive and you feel your toddler getting antsy, thats a perfect opportunity to pull one out.
Infant car seat toy: If you are traveling with a newborn, toys most likely arent necessary. They will do a lot of sleeping and eating. If you have a baby that is 3+ months I cant recommend this car seat toy enough! Our son loves it and It will keep him entertained for a while.
I would also recommend bringing a few other toys such as a crinkle book or rattle. Once they are 6+ months you can give them something as simple as a napkin or wipe container (my 7 month olds favorite) and they will be happily entertained.
Get the wiggles out
Be on the lookout for parks, and rest stops. When traveling with little ones in car seats, its recommended that they get out to stretch their legs every two hours (source). This will also give you a chance to tackle diaper changes, snack and release some of that energy!
Plan for naps
This will vary from family to family. Some kids will happily fall asleep in the car without a lot of effort, but others will not. If your kids need some help falling asleep I would try and keep a similar nap schedule to when you are at home. Some things that can help:
Portable sound machine: This thing is a lifesaver! We mostly use it for our baby when we are on the go but it works great for road trips for both kids. Its loud enough and the battery lasts for a while without needing recharging.
Dont forget blankets, stuffies, etc: Our son cant sleep without his blankie, so if your toddler is like ours, dont forget it at home! Make sure you bring the necessary items so they are comfortable in the car to fall asleep.
Set your car up for success
Its hard to stay organized with kids in the car because you are constantly grabbing for toys, snacks, diapers etc…things can get chaotic fast. If you make an effort to organize things so they are handy in the car before you leave, I can guarantee you will thank yourself later.
Some ideas to keep things organized:
Bag for overnight essentials: If you are staying in a hotel along the way or even if youre not, its a good idea to keep a duffle bag handy with a change of clothes for everyone, toiletries, and any other supplies you might need for a night stay.
This way you arent bringing in large suitcases for just one night or rifling through them for a change of clothes if your baby has a blow out.
Basket/bag of essentials for the backseat: Keep a basket in the backseat with diapers, wipes, a few snacks, water, bottles & formula (if needed) or toys so you can easily access them.
Keep a seat open in the backseat: Try your best to keep a seat open in the back for yourself or partner in the case that you need to sit back there to tend to your toddler or baby. I always end up in the back seat at least a few times during a long drive. This way you wont be trying to clear the back seat and make room for yourself if you have a crying baby.
Keep a bag of YOUR supplies in the front seat: Keep a bag or tote in the front seat by the passenger seat with any supplies you will need for the road.
Whether you are traveling alone with kids or with a partner, its nice to have things like wallet, sunglasses, water, entertainment and snacks handy. (This is also where I keep new toys for our toddler if I need to get them out in a pinch.
As I stated above, the toddler activity station is a great way to keep your toddlers car essentials all in one place. You can keep crayons and books organized and have a nice table they can eat their meals on if you dont feel like stopping.
Related: Essentials for a family road trip with kids (a detailed list of everything you will need!)
Be very flexible
I already stated this briefly above but keep your expectations low as far as how many stops you will be taking, how many tantrums might occur or how many hours you expect to drive. Road tripping with a toddler and baby is truly an experience.
It can be fun and stressful all at the same time and will probably test you in many ways. BUT you can try to keep the stress to a minimum by keeping things more organized, having plenty of activities and just keeping your overall expectations low.
How to survive a vacation with a baby and toddler
If you have taken a trip with JUST a baby then you may not think it was that bad. You are able to go out to eat while the baby naps, stroll around town with your baby in the stroller, or hold your baby in a carrier (we have this one and absolutely love it!) while he snoozes.
The game is completely changed when a toddler is involved, let alone a toddler AND baby.
Toddlers love to be free, most like routine, toddlers & restaurants generally dont mix, and they have plenty of public meltdowns.
These factors make vacationing a bit more challenging and unpredictable. Vacations you and your partner are used to taking might look a little different.
You will be more confined to nap schedules, you might need to go to kid friendly restaurants, and overall will need to be a lot more flexible.
Think about sleeping arrangements before you book
When you have young kids (or any kids) its important to keep sleeping arrangements in mind before booking..
This might not always be in your control if you are going on a family vacation where someone else is doing the booking, but you should be able to ask details so you can get an idea what the sleeping arrangements might be.
If you are booking a hotel, I recommend getting something big enough so that your toddler and baby will have a dark space to sleep if you and your partner want to stay up for a while.
If you are room sharing, this slumber pod is WONDERFUL! It fits over most standard sized pack and plays and keeps it blacked out, and paired with a sound machine, it will feel like they are in their own room.
Renting a house or something with a kitchenette and a few bedrooms is ideal with young kids.
This allows you to make bottles, cook meals, and have a separate sleeping space for the kids, so you have somewhere to spend your time while your kids nap or go to sleep for the night.
Don’t feel like you have to eat out every night
When on vacation it seems like eating out is the only way to go. But I would try to do a combination of eating at a few kid friendly restaurants, takeout, and a few meals at your renal or hotel if you are able.
Not every meal has to be eaten at a restaurant, because if you have ever eaten out with a toddler you know it can be messy and well….stressful to say the least.
Even grabbing takeout and having a picnic in the park can be fun for the whole family!
Provide quiet time for your toddler each day
Vacationing and doing new things each day can cause sensory overload for your toddler. I would recommend trying your best to stick to their current nap & bedtime schedule, and have time after a big activity to unwind.
That might look like taking a short walk, sitting in the park, reading a few books at the hotel, or even sitting in the car for a few minutes to be in the QUIET.
Trips can be quite overwhelming for little brains. Toddlers thrive with routine and structure, and a vacation is anything but that. It is important to give them time to regroup and enjoy some peace and quiet before moving onto the next activity.
Nobody wants toddler meltdowns, and this is a good way to help avoid them.
Try not to stick to a rigid schedule
Whether you are traveling with extended family or not, it is important to explain expectations before the trip.
If you have family wanting to stick to a schedule, it might be worth mentioning to them that its important for your family to be flexible and attend to your baby and toddlers sleeping & meal schedule as well.
This might mean skipping a few activities or having some things planned for just your family.
If you are traveling with your immediate family, this might not be as big of a concern unless you are a planner like myself.
I like to know when and where we will be doing activities each day and that can be unrealistic with kids around.
Having plans is great but keep in mind that you might not be doing things at the time you may have envisioned. Having one or two scheduled activities is realistic but the rest might have to be planned as you go.
Surviving a road trip and vacation with a baby and toddler is not an easy task!
You will probably get frustrated at times, BUT these are bonding moments that you will remember forever. I know for myself, I loved family trips growing up, especially road trips! They are just something so exciting to look forward to.
I have learned along the way that implementing these strategies when preparing for a road trip has helped tremendously, as well as shifting your mindset on vacations with the family.
Do you have any tips for surviving a road trip or vacation with your kids?